Woman transforms squatters' hideout in Cardiff

From drugs den to dream home: Woman transforms squatters’ hideout in Cardiff into £875k family house in incredible renovation

  • Owner Emma Meese bought the delapidated house in 2016 and spent years renovating the building
  • It was turned from a drug den and squatters’ hideout to a modern and spacious family home 
  • The five-bedroom detatched house is now for sale for £875,000 as Ms Meese moves to another project
  • It has been kitted out with three secret rooms, a light kitchen/diner and even has a dog shower in the garden

A former drug den which once had walls emblazoned with the words ‘wanna buy some meth’ and ‘death with entry’ has been transformed into a luxury family home – and is for sale for £875,000.

Owner Emma Meese had driven past the Cardiff squatters’ hideout for eight years when she decided she wanted to buy the property, claiming to see its potential from the outset.

After getting the keys to the squatters’ den in 2017 Ms Meese walked around to investigate her purchase. With broken glass crunching underfoot, graffiti sprawled across the walls and each room shrouded in darkness due to boards at the windows, Ms Meese said she saw past the mess and imagined what the house could become.

Four years later and the house, located in Cyncoed, one of the wealthiest parts of Cardiff, has been kitted out with three secret rooms, a light and airy kitchen/diner with floor-to-ceiling windows and even a dog shower in the garden.


Owner Emma Meese had driven past the Cardiff squatters’ hideout (left) for eight years when she decided she wanted to buy the property, claiming to see its potential from the outset. Pictured right, the house after an intense renovation


During its renovation the house was taken back to its basic structure. Its kitchen (left) and bathroom were ripped out and an extension was planned and approved. On the ground floor, the rear extension (pictured) spans the width of the house and is the sociable hub of the home, featuring a substantial dining area, lounge, and sleek, contemporary kitchen

Ms Meese said: ‘This house is full of surprises, I’ve always told visitors to expect the unexpected. I love a hidden room so we added three secret doors. One leads to a pantry, which has always been my dream to have, and in the master bedroom you push a bookcase which opens up into a dressing room. The third is up in the loft room.

‘There are also some really quirky design additions too like a laundry chute, magnetic walls, a kingsize mezzanine floor in one bedroom and an outdoor dog shower. We also added a bar area in the back room, which has been brilliant during lockdown.’

Her favourite part of the house is the laundry chute, which Ms Meese says allows occupants to simply drop any dirty washing through a door in the dressing room, where it falls into a cupboard above the washing machine. ‘No more stray socks on the stairs,’ she added.

The abandoned period property had become well-known as the local eyesore before Ms Meese got hold of the keys. Photographs from before the renovation show a dank, dirty house.

She said: ‘I’d driven past the house for seven or eight years and always said, half jokingly, if we ever did a big renovation that would be my dream house to renovate. I always felt drawn to it.


After buying the squatters’ den in 2017 Ms Meese walked around to investigate her purchase. With broken glass crunching underfoot, graffiti sprawled across the walls and each room shrouded in darkness due to boards at the windows, Ms Meese said she saw past the mess and imagined what the house could become, including a Christmas tree in the bay window

One of the bedrooms still had a fitted wardrobe inside, but graffiti reading ‘wanna buy some meth’ revealed what had become of the abandoned period property. Once a well-loved, stylish detached family home, the building was due to be demolished to provide an access road to a new housing estate. It was bought in 2001 by Western Power Distribution

Pictured, one of the home’s spacious bedrooms after the renovation features a large bay window that allows light to flood into the large room. Of viewing the house for the first time, Ms Meese said: ‘We could only see the house via torchlight as there was no electricity in the house and the windows were all boarded up’

‘From the first time we set foot in it, I only ever felt excited about doing the house up. We could only see the house via torchlight as there was no electricity in the house and the windows were all boarded up. But I could still imagine the original parquet all done up and a Christmas tree in the front bay window.’

As renovations began Ms Meese was forced to demolish the bathroom before even stepping foot in it because its condition was so bad. She added, however, that the house was fairly structurally sound.

‘The house was cold, dark, and covered in graffiti. There was broken glass all over the floor and the squatters had nailed some wood across the bathroom door to make sure no one fell through the huge hole in the floor.

‘When we stood in the kitchen and looked up we could see straight through to the attic and could see some daylight peeking through.’

Despite its glum appearance there were clues to the home’s previous life of grandeur, Ms Meese said, adding that there were ‘filthy’ 1980s-style swag and tail curtains hanging.

When the bi-fold kitchen window is opened fully it becomes an outdoor bar, something Ms Meese made use of during months of lockdown last year. She added: ‘The kitchen window is a bi-fold which, when fully opened, turns into an outdoor bar. The garden was hugely overgrown as it hadn’t been looked after for almost a decade’

As renovations began Ms Meese was forced to demolish the bathroom (pictured) before even stepping foot in it because its condition was so bad. She added, however, that the house was fairly structurally sound. Squatters had put wooden boards across the door to the bathroom to stop people falling through the floor

Upstairs the house now has a family bathroom and five bedrooms, including an impressive master suite. Ms Meese, who is soon to be moving on to her next property challenge, said: ‘Our friends and family love it and can’t believe how high end it is compared to its beginning as a crack den. It’s the most fabulous family home now.’ Pictured, an ensuite


Throughout the renovation process, Ms Meese saved and restored as many of the period features as possible, including the now beautiful parquet woodblock flooring and stripped internal wood doors. She said: ‘I also love looking up the stairs. It was great to be able to keep the original staircase and give it a modern twist with the paint and carpet’

‘Our friends were surprised when we said we were buying this house as it was pretty hard for others to visualise how amazing it could look again. To many people it looked beyond repair.

‘I could visualise how it could look from the very first viewing. The house had such a great structure and was solid, so we kept all the original rooms at the front, we opened up the back and added a contemporary new look that really complemented the original house.’

Ms Meese, director of Independent Community New Network, said ‘the biggest’ surprise was a filled-in ‘heated hydro pool’ which she found when it came time to improve the garden.

She added: ‘The kitchen window is a bi-fold which, when fully opened, turns into an outdoor bar. The garden was hugely overgrown as it hadn’t been looked after for almost a decade. When we dug out the foundations for the extension at the back of the house we found a lot of cables and pipes which seemed to lead to nowhere.

A US power company planned to drain the Llanishen Reservoir to build more than 300 houses on the site. But the development never went ahead after years of campaigning by residents living nearby. They had formed the Llanishen Reservoir Action Group – and managed to save it. Pictured, the renovated family bathroom

The central reception room, between the new extension and the separate sitting room at the front of the home, was a dark area. ‘Light pours into every room except the middle room. We decided not to put windows back in this room as it is designed to be more of a snug, which is great for watching films, chilling out and reading’

The house, thought to have been used by squatters as a drug den, was covered in graffiti. This wall featured the words ‘death with entry’ and ‘crystal meth’


The heated hydro pool had been covered over by a previous owner of the house but Ms Meese found it during renovations. Picuted, the back of the house before and after the renovation. An overground garden became a manicured lawn and sleek patio area where the family could enjoy a drink during the warmer weather

‘We later found they were for the water and electricity supply to, what was, a heated hydro pool. At some point a previous owner had filled it in with earth and the grass and weeds had all kept it hidden until we went to level the garden to lay the lawn.’

Once a well-loved, stylish and detached family home, the building was due to be demolished to provide an access road to a new housing estate. It was bought in 2001 by Western Power Distribution.

The US power company planned to drain the Llanishen Reservoir to build more than 300 houses on the site. But the development never went ahead after years of campaigning by residents living nearby. They had formed the Llanishen Reservoir Action Group – and managed to save it.

The house and its two neighbours were boarded and bricked up, becoming empty shells that were stripped of everything inside – including water pipes. They were soon used as a base for anti-social behaviour.

During its renovation the house was taken back to its basic structure. Its kitchen and bathroom were ripped out and the water and electricity had to be reconnected. An extension was also planned and approved.                     

The extension created more space for the family to relax in. Ms Meese said the outdoor space was one of the key elements of the makeover because the views over the treetops (pictured) to the reservoir beyond was one of the main reasons the couple bought the house

Despite its glum appearance there were clues to the home’s previous life of grandeur, Ms Meese said, adding that there were ‘filthy’ 1980s-style swag and tail curtains hanging (pictured)

On the ground floor, the rear extension spans the width of the house and is the sociable hub of the home, featuring a substantial dining area, lounge, and sleek, contemporary kitchen.

Ms Meese said the outdoor space was one of the key elements of the makeover because the views over the treetops to the reservoir beyond was one of the main reasons the couple bought the house. 

She said: ‘I love each room in a different way but my favourite room is the big kitchen, dining, living room out the back. We spend most of our time in this room.

‘The kitchen bi-fold window doubles as the most incredible indoor/outdoor bar area which is like being on an Ibiza sun terrace in the summer. And I love sitting in the back room and watching all the incredible sunsets and birds over the reservoir.’

The ground floor also boasts an integrated garage, utility room and cloakroom plus two additional reception rooms. The central reception room, between the new extension and the separate sitting room at the front of the home, was a dark area.

‘Light pours into every room except the middle room. We decided not to put windows back in this room as it is designed to be more of a snug, which is great for watching films, chilling out and reading.’

At the front of the house there’s an additional and separate sitting room, a quiet and stylish spot to relax that includes Ms Meese’s favourite statement furniture piece in the whole house.

She says: ‘My favourite item is the gold splattered cowhide rug in the front room, especially when the sun shines on the gold splatters. It’s a marmite item, but I love it.’

Throughout the renovation process, Ms Meese saved and restored as many of the period features as possible, including the now beautiful parquet woodblock flooring and stripped internal wood doors.

She said: ‘I also love looking up the stairs. It was great to be able to keep the original staircase and give it a modern twist with the paint and carpet.’

Upstairs the house now has a family bathroom and five bedrooms, including an impressive master suite.  

Ms Meese, who is soon to be moving on to her next property challenge, said: ‘Our friends and family love it and can’t believe how high end it is compared to its beginning as a crack den. It’s the most fabulous family home now.’

The house is for sale for £875,000 with estate agent Martin & Co’s Cardiff branch.

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